The shovels in the sand were ceremonial, the nearby excavators temporarily idle.

But Tuesday's groundbreaking ceremony at the Heights, the 112-acre redevelopment site on St. Paul's East Side, was significant nonetheless. It marked the official beginning of transforming the former Hillcrest Golf Course into 1,000 units of housing and 1,000 jobs for a neighborhood that's long needed economic investment.

The symbolism wasn't lost on City Council Member Nelsie Yang and DFL state Rep. Liz Lee, who represent the area. Both touted a long-held vision that, thanks to $11 million earmarked for the site in the latest state bonding bill, is now taking shape.

"We want to make sure people invest in this part of town," said Lee, who grew up a couple of blocks away and worked a paper route that passed the golf course.

Xcel Energy has a purchase agreement for 20 acres for a new service center that will employ several hundred people. Sherman Associates and Habitat for Humanity are also on board, to help create the housing that Yang said she hopes serves people who end up working at the Heights.

"Many people who live on the East Side take 35 to 40 minutes just to get to work," Yang said of residents who mostly rely on public transportation. "Having good jobs that are local is so important."

Besides an infusion of housing and jobs, the Heights will feature a 5-acre park, public art, trails and other green space. Officials say they expect the Heights, second in size only to the former Ford Motor Co. site now known as Highland Bridge, to be complete in 2029.

Todd Hurley, who grew up five houses away from the golf course and worked there as a caddy, is president and CEO of the St. Paul Port Authority — the Heights' master developer. He, too, could hardly contain his excitement that a project years in the planning will now get underway. He spent a good 15 minutes on Tuesday thanking an extensive "team" of politicians, planners and developers for getting the Heights to the starting gate.

The Port Authority bought the golf course site in 2019 with a vision of "creating economic vitality for St. Paul's East Side," Hurley said. "That vision included unlocking the potential of creating quality jobs and affordable, quality housing on this site."

Hurley has said the redeveloped site will pump about $5 million a year into property tax coffers. Hillcrest Golf Course generated about $500,000 a year in tax revenue, he said.

"Today marks a very, very big day for the Heights," Hurley said. "It doesn't look like much today, but just wait. This is going to be a great development."